Whether you've been sent a simple ZIP archive, you need to create and share your own compressed files, or you're staring down the barrel of some obscure archive format you've never seen before, having the right file compression application in your corner is a must. Read on for a closer look at the five best file compression tools.
7-Zip (Windows/Linux, Free)
7-Zip is a free, open-source file archive utility with a spare interface but powerful feature set. With support for most popular compression formats (and quite a few not-so-popular), this lightweight, open source option does the job quickly and without fuss. While some 7-Zip users complain about its spare interface, others are happy with 7-Zip's no-nonsense approach and fast operation.
IZArc (Windows, Freeware)
IZArc is the compression tool that may take home the prize for most-supported read and write formats for this Hive Five. IZArc is also the only featured archiver apart from PeaZip that distributes a portable version on their web site (though third parties have made other apps portable—like 7-Zip Portable). Users go for IZArc for its attractive interface and its low pricetag. IZArc is freeware, but donations are accepted.
WinRAR (Windows, Shareware)
WinRAR is a powerful file compression and decompression tool that's been around since 1993. As the first result in a Google search for RAR, it's probably the first option most of us stumbled onto when we ran into our first RAR file. That said, WinRAR supports a wide range of formats. It's also one of the few archivers capable of writing RAR archives—though overall it's limited to creating only RARs or ZIPs. WinRAR costs a pretty steep $US29 for a licence, but several users are happy to suffer through the nag screens to avoid the cost.
PeaZip (Windows and Linux, Free)
PeaZip is a free and open-source archive manager that supports a boatload of formats. Unlike its open-source sister, 7-Zip, PeaZip also has a very attractive interface, from the main application interface down to the desktop icons it uses when you set it as your default compression tool. Like IZArc, it's also available in a portable version—so even if you don't go with it for your default, it's worth tossing on your thumb drive just in case you need a little compression on the road.
The Unarchiver (Mac OS X, Freeware)
The Unarchiver is the built-in default file compression utility for Mac OS X. Unlike Windows, which only supports the ZIP format out-of-the-box, The Unarchiver handles most major formats. The catch: The Unarchiver is a read-only application, so if you're on a Mac and you want to write to more obscure archive types than ZIP, you may need to add an extra tool to your arsenal. Most OS X users, however, are happy to stick with The Unarchiver for all their decompression needs.
This week's honorable mentions go out to jZip and ALZip. Whether or not your app of choice made the short list, let's hear more about it i the comments.